News: Recently, the Indian Navy thwarted two piracy attempts off the Somali coast within a span of 36 hours.

Piracy is as old as seafaring itself, and has existed for centuries in various forms. In recent years, waters off the west coast of Africa, Gulf of Aden, Horn of Africa, Bangladesh, and the Strait of Malacca have seen attacks by pirates.

Why these areas are being most prevalent?

  • First, these sea areas are poorly policed. The coastal countries have weak maritime forces or none at all.
  • Second, these areas normally have concentrations of shipping traffic, being either choke points in shipping routes where ships are forced to converge or slow down by geography, or anchorages where ships remain stationary for days before entering port.
  • Third, often poor governance or turmoil on land close to these areas leads to unemployment, poverty and consequently, crime.
  • Fourth, these areas are mostly international waters, international straits, or archipelagic waters which are long stretches of sea that fall within the maritime jurisdiction of several countries. This leads to legal complexities and difficulties in coordination.

Response of Indian Navy:

  • Indian Navy has been among the most proactive forces deployed in the troubled area off the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.
  • Its anti-piracy patrol that started in 2008 continues to this day; The boundaries of the high-risk area that covered much of the Arabian Sea during the height of Somali piracy (2009-12) were pushed back westward primarily due to the efforts of the Indian Navy.
  • Several recent intervention and rescue operations — including the rescue of a Sri Lankan fishing trawler, Lorenzo Putha, in a coordinated action with the Sri Lankan and Seychelles navies on January 29, and the rescue of two Iranian flagged boats with Iranian and Pakistani crew by the Offshore Patrol Vessel INS Sumitra within 36 hours — are testimony to the continuing professionalism and effectiveness of the Indian Navy in these waters.

What do maritime forces do in their anti-piracy response?

  1. They maintain a visible presence that aims to deter pirates from carrying out attacks.
  2. Their ships and aircraft undertake surveillance of the high-risk area, identify suspect vessels, and report them for further investigation. This is supported by information fusion centres ashore.
  3. They warn passing ships about suspect vessels and announce escort schedules, if any, so that merchant ships transiting the high-risk area can join convoys between designated points.
  4. They proactively or reactively intervene to manage a developing situation, foil a piracy attempt, or rescue a hijacked vessel while trying to ensure minimum casualties and damage.

Lack of stringent policy & International Coordination:

● Handling captive pirates poses several legal challenges. National laws are often inadequate to deal with apprehended pirates, and there is no effective international legal mechanism for their trial and disposal. The many nationalities, countries, maritime zones, flag states, etc. involved raise complex jurisdictional issues.
● The captured pirates are usually disarmed, and their boats are drained of fuel and set adrift so that they are unable to undertake further attacks.
● However, they often find their way back ashore to return to piracy another day. Occasionally, they are handed over to a coastal state for legal proceedings.


● Some nations prefer to operate independently, coordinating loosely with other navies in the area. Whereas coalition forces prefer a method of static patrol with each ship being assigned a geographical area, some navies choose to escort columns of merchant ships.
● There is reasonably effective communication and coordination among all maritime forces. Communications with merchant vessels are maintained on commercial open frequencies that are known to all seafarers and commercial aircraft. The first alarm by a merchant ship usually comes over these open frequencies.
A ship with an armed helicopter is the most effective in dealing with a piracy situation because of its rapid response capability in reaching the spot, directing fire, and vectoring the nearest ship that can render assistance.
Marine commandos (MARCO) are the most effective in intervention operations. The Indian Navy has been practising Maritime Intervention Operations (MIO) for decades, and has developed extremely high expertise in this niche area of naval operations.

The Indian Navy has never shied away from intervening in any developing situation, and has foiled several attempts by pirates at hijacking merchant ships. But, a long-term solution to the problem of piracy lies in rooting out misgovernance and unemployment in nations ashore, which feed maritime criminal activities. Till that happens, piracy will recur periodically and maritime forces will have to work to ensure mercantile peace.


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